Monday, November 28, 2011

Iceland: Blue Lagoon and Smoked Lamb

Greenwich Mean Time. This was my first time at 0:00 +/- 0. Perhaps I didn't think it too clearly when I booked a redeye flight from JFK to Reykjavik; I had neglected the five hour time difference and the ten hour flight was only five in reality. Luckily, we had a direct transfer from the airport to the majestic Blue Lagoon spa.

I ended up with multiple surreal experiences in Iceland, but chief among them was this geothermal hotsprings. The weather was cold and icy. For the first hour we were there, we had ice in our hair from the unrelenting snow and hail. However, the water was comfortably around 100 degrees. The constant rising steam blocked out most of your vision beyond twenty feet or so. The ground was soft in places, as the mud is used as a facial exfoliant. Grab a bright blue cocktail from the floating bar and kick back with an underwater massage or a sweat in the sauna.

My first meal in Iceland was actually a sandwich at the airport convenience store. Iceland is known for its lamb, as its sheep are allowed to graze all over the countryside. The organic lamb is a mark of pride for the country, so I made an effort to try lamb dishes wherever I went. It was not a problem as lamb was on every menu no matter the cuisine. Thus, I skipped over the ham and cheese and went for the smoked lamb and bean salad.

The smoked lamb stood out right away. A richly dark smokiness permeated the sandwich. Iceland is a cold country and Icelanders seem to love their calories. All the sandwiches I had were smothered in mayonnaise and this bean salad was no exception. Although the sandwich could've been lighter on the mayo, it was delicious and a great entry into the country's cuisine.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Junoon: Indian Entry into NYC Michelin

The dining room is spacious, not only by New York standards, but with the high ceilings and wide spaces, Junoon would not be out of place in a city with cheaper commercial leases. I entered into the vestibule and saw framed reviews, all from this year. The new restaurant received a Michelin star this year. I had high expectations for the my first Michelin rated Indian restaurant.


Open kitchen. Immaculate chefs' jackets. White table clothes. Well-trained waiters. Junoon had all the makings of an upscale Western restaurant. With the exceptions of some service hiccups during the lunch, all the other ambiance aspects were in place for high end. Little quirks like the elaborate lounge seating in the bar area and the spice cellar add to the experience. But what about the food?

Junoon offers a three-course $24 prix fixe for lunch Monday through Friday. My appetizer, piri piri shrimp in a Goan chili sauce with avocado and jicama salad raised my expectations even higher than they had been. Huge prawns with a spicy sauce cut by the citrus dressing served as a delicious first course.

Whenever I go to a new Indian restaurant, I always order a lamb korma. It is my barometer dish, the standard that I use to compare Indian places. Granted, not all Indian places do an excellent korma, but unless an Indian place specializes in something else, my favorite dish is an acceptable measure. The lunch prix fixe menu at Junoon had a chicken awadhi korma with toasted cashews, cream, green cardamon and saffron, not quite what I wanted, but close enough. The curry dishes come with excellent naan and basmatti rice. In fact, the naan was the best I've ever had. Unfortunately, the korma was one-dimensional and unbalanced in flavor. The only flavor profile I remember is salty. In retrospect, for a restaurant like this, I should've picked a more modern, fusion dish. Nothing about Junoon was traditional; I imagine that the best dishes wouldn't be in a typical Indian household.

A finely shaped cube of cardamon kulfi was my dessert. Kulfi is often characterized as Indian ice cream, except it isn't whipped. The result is a dense block of creamy mouth feel, but digging at it with my fork felt like chiseling a block of marble.

I wanted to like Junoon more. I encourage some diversity in Michelin's guide. I'll have to return to try the more famous halibut or lamb dishes for dinner and give it the attention that the restaurant's interiors inspire.

27 W. 24th St.,
Flatiron District, Manhattan